Postpartum Mood Disorders

Postpartum Anxiety During a Pandemic

Mom Checking Baby's Temperature

I can’t help but think of all the new moms during this global coronavirus outbreak. It is a highly anxious and stressful time for all of us but when you throw a massive hormone shift and a new baby into the mix I can’t think of much scarier. We expect this time to be full of the beauty and excitement of new life, instead, some of us discover we’re engulfed in worry about your own mortality and the health and safety of our newborn. In fact, Postpartum Mood Disorder is the most common complication of pregnancy.

During this pandemic living in a state of worry has become the “New Normal” so I can’t help but wonder – will new moms be even less likely to get diagnosed?

One of the reasons postpartum anxiety is under-diagnosed is that new moms and those around them think that being “anxious” is just a normal part of becoming a mother. We might even think that all this worrying makes us a good mother – after all us worriers are the ultimate baby-protectors.

I used to joke that my daughter’s first word was “careful” because I was so anxious about anything bad happening to her that I spent exorbitant amounts of energy imagining all the disasters that could befall her. Any remaining energy I had was spent trying to prevent these imagined tragedies from happening. I couldn’t separate normal thinking from disordered thinking. Neither could anyone around me because while they may have seen some anxious behaviors they could never have known how much of my time was spent thinking about my own death and the fear I had around leaving my three children motherless. I kept most of my fears to myself.

When the WHO declared a pandemic, memories of being a new mom with postpartum anxiety came flooding back to me. Remembering how I struggled just to get through the next hour, let alone try to figure out how to survive a pandemic led me to write this article. I have so much compassion for any new mom going through postpartum anxiety but especially right now. It is impossible right now to turn on our phones or computers or television without being bombarded with the news of coronavirus outbreak. Most of it scary and all of this pandemic talk would have triggered me for sure. Trying to reduce or avoid these kinds of triggers right now is virtually impossible.

Now with everyone expressing such high levels of stress, along with anxious behaviors, my concern is that even more women with postpartum anxiety will be undiagnosed. Moms may be more likely to downplay their own anxiety assuming everyone is feeling anxious right now. The harm here is that when we try to self-diagnose or chalk this anxiety up to other causes we don’t get the help we need. I am also concerned that this bias will also happen with our healthcare providers so please remember it’s important now more than ever to self-advocate.

“What Do I Know to be True?”

Here’s a little emergency trick that helped me get grounded during my anxiety. It’s called, “What Do I Know to be True?”. I’d stop what I was doing and try to find 4 things that I knew to be true in the moment. So today it might look something like this:

  1. I know right now me and my baby are safe in our home.
  2. I know that I am taking the recommended measures to reduce the chance of getting the virus.
  3. I know that almost all people who become sick experience a mild or moderate case of coronavirus.
  4. I know there is a massive global effort underway to find treatments.

You can come up with your own and you can create more than 4. They may change throughout the day or day by day. You can make them brief and use them as mantras throughout the day.

To get help you don’t have to wait to be diagnosed or self-diagnose! If you are struggling in any way – reach out – there is lots of support available.

The good news is if you are suffering from postpartum anxiety (or even think you might be), there is lots of help. You don’t have to go through this alone. I wish I had known to reach out. The one thing I’ve learned is that the worst thing to do is to do nothing.

So if I was looking for support right now the first place I’d start is Postpartum Support International. PSI has many options for you – you can:

  • call and speak to someone who is trained in postpartum support
  • text and speak to someone who is trained in postpartum support
  • join an online chat
  • join a Facebook group
  • find a provider
  • speak to a mentor (someone who’s been in your shoes) and
  • learn about postpartum mood disorders.

A rare form of postpartum mood disorder called Postpartum Psychosis is a medical emergency – if you or someone you know is exhibiting signs call 9-1-1-.